Thursday, July 22, 2010

Stumbling into belonging

Before we work on changing those big assumptions I mentioned yesterday, let's revisit Kegan and Lahey's immunity mapping exercise (from  How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work) from a more personal level, i.e., here's a piece of what happens when I walk through it with my own "stuff."

My commitment is to speak my truth.  But in fact I have a tendency to shut down and be quiet when I disagree with those around me.  That's because I have a hidden/competing commitment to avoid drawing critical attention to myself.  And the Big Assumption that lies beneath that commitment is that any time I stand up for myself or my beliefs I will do something stupid that makes both me and my ideas look hopelessly foolish, resulting in the opposite of the desired effect -- rather like this poor graffiti artist whose potentially profound thought is derailed by his misspelling of the word "criticize."

So how do I start dismantling that assumption?  Kegan and Lahey offer the following steps to help work through this.  They suggest you take on these activities with a peer group and share your experiences after each:
  1. Spend time noticing what does or does not occur as a consequence of holding your big assumptions as true, then share your observations.
  2. Be on the lookout for any experiences that cast some doubt on the truthfulness of your assumptions, then describe the results to your peers.
  3. Spend some time reflecting on the possible origin of your assumptions, then share your thoughts.
  4. Design a modest and safe test of your Big Assumptions and share the results of your experiment.  Keep it small; don't go overboard, and then, with the help of your group, keep refining and expanding your tests over time.
If you're like me, the thought of walking into this space -- what David Whyte, in The Heart Aroused, calls "the black, contemplative splendors of self-doubt" -- can be daunting.  "But wanting soul life," says Whyte, "without the dark, warming intelligence of personal doubt is like expecting an egg without the brooding heat of the mother hen."

Self-doubt, he goes on to say, "is that part of the soul that is able to to taste the bitter in life as well as the sweet.  It is open to a side of life that a sunny disposition must ignore in order to carry on smiling." What I learned walking through this exercise (and trust me, there were several other commitments and assumptions I uncovered) is that most of what I struggle with has to do with a longing for connection and community.  Which meant that this passage, encountered this morning in Whyte's book, really resonated:

"The whole of western cultural tradition is based on a primary interior struggle: the essential aloneness of the individual, coupled with a wish to be part of some larger corporate body... bridging two impossible worlds, personal destiny and impersonal organization, we find ourselves standing in a half-dark, twilight land between them both.  As we begin to think about our aloneness, where we fit in the world, why we are working where we are, the state of our soul and the direction we are headed, we join a long lineage of men and women who gave themselves over to the imagery of the poetic imagination to find out the selfsame thing.  We begin to give those images life by speaking them aloud, however hesitantly.  

Questioning in a real way, we start, by all the lights of the poetic tradition, to awaken.  We are come to consciousness, albeit in a dark wood,  But as we awaken, we take the first steps into the hall of grief and loss...At this point we are thrown back on ourselves and must live on what we find there.  In a way we are finally forced to rely on the one thing already within the compass of our grasp -- our soul's natural entanglement in the world...It is as if we first stumble into our belonging by realizing how desperately out of place we feel."

I love that phrase, "stumbling into belonging."  It seems to perfectly describe my experience as I move into the challenges of my coursework -- and echoes what I do believe, though I can't always seem to practice it: that by allowing ourselves to face openly into our vulnerability, we can finally begin to achieve the connection and community for which we hunger.

3 comments:

Maureen said...

There results of engaging in the activities to uncover assumptions can be profound. We've used them in couples counseling. My husband's used them in his professional futures work.

Great post.

"Stumbling into our belonging" is one of those phrases that once heard is not apt to be forgotten.

Joyce Wycoff said...

I, too, love "stumbling into belonging" and this whole challenging of assumptions and underlying beliefs series. Very rich for further contemplation.

M.L. Gallagher said...

You wrote this for me, about me, right?

Wow -- thank you.